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Early Use Of Nicotine Could Increase Susceptibility For Life-Long Addiction

ATLANTA, October 16, 2006 — Nicotine exposure at a young age may alter the “hard-wiring” of the brain that occurs during adolescence and young-adulthood, contributing to future susceptibility for addiction, according to a University of Pittsburgh study being presented today at Neuroscience 2006, the 36th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

The research team, led by Jay W. Pettegrew, M.D., professor of psychiatry, used magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) to evaluate the effects of acute nicotine administration on nerve cell membranes – the functional communication centers of the brain. According to their findings, nicotine induced molecular and metabolic changes in the brain, which resulted in the breakdown of the nerve cell membranes. These changes were especially observed in males. Such findings could explain what has been noted in epidemiological studies -- that individuals who smoke as adolescents have a higher probability of being life-long smokers than those who start smoking later in life.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Pittsburgh is a recognized leader in neuroscience research. The University of Pittsburgh Center for Neuroscience was formed 40 years ago to foster collaboration among faculty from several departments within the School of Medicine and the School of Arts and Sciences. In addition, as a joint program with Carnegie Mellon University, the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition is dedicated to the investigation of neural mechanisms that give rise to human cognitive abilities.

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